Sublimation Systems Overview

Sublimation is the process of a solid changing state directly into a gas, thus bypassing the liquid state. An example of this is dry ice. Everyone has seen blocks of dry ice and the vapour they give off, but no liquid. Dry ice sublimates.

When it comes to sublimation transfers, the ink is actually a microscopic solid particle, which is suspended in the liquid (essentially water) that is the liquid ink we see. When printed onto paper, the solid particle sits on the paper. When heated beyond 160°C, this particle becomes a gas and binds chemically with the polyester of the coating (in the case of hard surfaces) or the polyester fibres in the case of fabrics. Sublimation needs special ink, paper and substrates with a polyester type coating or fabrics that are synthetic to work. Sublimation should not be confused with dye-sublimation which is a different print technology using ribbons instead of liquid inks.

A product printed with the sublimation process is completely smooth to the touch and due to the nature of the solid to gaseous phase, the image is smooth. There are no dots to see, thus images like photos and skin tones are superb. Sublimation is for light/white items only and will not work on a dark or black product (the result will be like writing with a pen onto black paper – You can sort of see something but nothing vivid).

When it comes to printing onto non-synthetic products (like cotton T-shirts) there is a special white substrate that is printed with the sublimation ink and this white substrate then transfers and sticks to the shirt. Whilst washability is good, it’s nowhere near as good as sublimating onto a polyester fabric. Fabrics printed with sublimation are permanent, not even bleach will remove them. All sports wear for example is sublimated. There is no other way to decorate them. No one has ever seen a polyester sports shirt wash out.

To print sublimation, a printer loaded with sublimation inks is required along with sublimation transfer paper. Unlike other companies that take a standard printer and fitting it with sublimation inks that it was never designed to use (thus leading to all sorts of problems), Sawgrass™ was the first company that designed a desktop printer specifically for sublimation. Sawgrass™ is also single-handedly responsible for creating the sublimation decoration market that is so prevalent today as they invented the process of putting sublimation ink through a computer printer.

The design or image from the computer is printed onto the special release paper (called sublimation transfer paper), and from there is applied to the item which is then put into a heat transfer press (or even into a home oven).

There are a number of heat presses for flat items, curved items, round items, and even an attachment for printing shoes.  On this page you can see some images of the printer and presses for sublimation.

We have sublimation systems to suit all needs and budgets as well as a very wide variety of heat presses. We stock a wide range of quality sublimation blanks.  Buy them directly from our online store.

Sublimation systems

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